"Mira and I share a common aesthetic sensibility"
Arjun Bhasin has traversed the globe, costuming characters in Monsoon Wedding, Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Life of Pi. Now, he's back with one of his favourite directors, Mira Nair for The Reluctant Fundamentalist that releases on May 17. In an email chat with Ruchika Kher, he opens up about his experiences on set, the challenges of working on this film and his forthcoming project with Hollywood actress Keira Knightley
You have worked with Mira Nair in others films as well. What is it that brings the two of you together again and again?
I have worked with Mira several times in the past — starting with Kamasutra, Monsoon Wedding, Vanity Fair, The Namesake and now, Reluctant Fundamentalist. We’ve also collaborated on a short film for the Bill Gates Foundation — Migration. Mira and I understand each other. We share a common aesthetic sensibility. She pushes me to see beyond aesthetics and use elements of design to tell interesting stories. She’s an extraordinary artist and I’m proud to be part of a team to facilitate her unique vision.
Did you read the book before designing for the film? Did the author, Mohsin Hamid give any tips or suggestions?
Yes, I read Mohsin’s novel before I even got to the screenplay. It’s always good to look at a project starting from its raw material and I learned a lot about the mood of the film from the original text — the novel. Mohsin never suggested any design tips but his sister Nisa was a great help. I consulted her several times on costume decisions where she advised me on authenticity of the ‘Lahori’ costumes.
What was the most challenging part of designing for this film?
We were working at breakneck speed. We shot in Atlanta for New York and in Delhi for Lahore and even in parts of Turkey. That was a massive challenge — maintaining the authenticity of places and recreating them elsewhere with limited time and budget.
You’ve designed for Hindi films and international cinema. What do you prefer and why? Are there differences in the costume designing department?
On one hand, it’s surprisingly similar to work in both the systems. I work much in the same way — my processes and my crew structure are the same. International film shoots tend to be faster and more intensive, Bollywood films require a longer time commitment and are usually more costume-heavy. Ideally, I’d like to do one of each — to create a variety in my work and to continue to push myself as a designer.
Your sister Niharika is also a successful name in costume designing. Do you two discuss your projects and give tips to each other?
Constantly. I admire her work — she’s unstoppable! I wish I had her energy and her fearlessness. We often critique each other and help each other whenever we can. That’s what family is for, right?
What are the main things that you look for in a film before giving your nod to it?
It’s a combination of script, director and the possibility of pushing myself as a visual artist, doing something new and exciting, learning something. But, there’s always the question of the script — is it something I can relate to? Is it going to be a film that interests me? Is it a film that I want to watch?
I designed a New York-based film with Keira Knightley and Adam Levine (from Maroon Five) as musicians, which will be released in theatres in late summer. I’m currently starting work on a new romantic comedy with Marisa Tomei and Sam Rockwell also in the US and then I’ll return to do Zoya Akhtar’s next.